National Fisherman

Cape mystery

From U.S. Coast Guard reports

In the early hours of a mild spring day a lone fisherman headed out for a day of squid fishing off the south shore of Cape Cod in Massachusetts. His boat, a wooden 38-foot Novi-style stern trawler built in 1947, was designed as a shellfish dragger for sheltered local bays and sounds. The boat had a history of being cared for meticulously. She had undergone an extensive restoration about 10 years prior, but her size and work within the boundary line meant that she did not require a stability test.

The skipper, an experienced fisherman, had owned the vessel for a little more than a year and generally dragged inside of 3 miles. He almost always fished alone. However, fishermen in this area of New England tend to fish in groups and look after one another.

The fishing was good. One fisherman recalled seeing the skipper of the old Novi bring up a load that lifted the bow out of the water by a foot. He motored close and shouted, "How much did you have in that bag?" The skipper reportedly replied, "1,000 to 1,200 pounds!"

That afternoon, the weather began to deteriorate. The seas were steep and tightly spaced, locally referred to as a Nantucket chop. The fleet headed back in.

At about 4 p.m. a mayday call echoed through the fleet's pilothouses. "I'm going over! I'm going over! I'm going over!" and then silence. Many recognized the voice, and several boats turned back.

The crew of the first boat on the scene was dismayed to see debris surrounding a partially submerged hull. Moments later the Novi slipped below the surface. The crew transmitted its location to the Coast Guard and began conducting a search as more fishing boats arrived to help.

A fire rescue dive team located the wreckage a couple of days later and found the skipper's body in the forward cabin. The Novi was resting intact on its keel and listing to port. There was no obvious damage to the main structure, and all gear appeared to be stowed. The starboard wheelhouse door was padlocked closed and the port side door was wedged shut because of the list. The rudder was hard-over.

Lessons learned
Coast Guard investigators determined the cause of the accident was a combination of weather and stability. We don't know the amount of fish on board or where and how it was stowed. Based on the boat's position on the bottom and what was reported by the fisherman who saw the bow upright just before the boat slipped beneath the waves, the vessel may not have capsized. It is possible it took a large wave, causing water to enter the hold and sink the vessel by the stern.

As a boat owner, you should keep track of all physical changes made to your vessel, including new fishing gear. Consult a naval architect or marine surveyor on possible stability changes. Ensure all means of egress are free from obstruction. Carefully monitor and secure your gear and catch. Be sure to keep all freeing ports and deck drains clear and batten down all hatches when not in use.

For more recommendations, please visit to access "A Best Practices Guide to Vessel Stability."

This article is based on U.S. Coast Guard reporting and is intended to bring safety issues to the attention of our readers. It is not intended to judge or reach conclusions regarding the ability or capacity of any person, living or dead, or any boat or piece of equipment.

Inside the Industry

Legislators from Connecticut and Massachusetts complained about the current “out-of-date allocation formula” in black sea bass, summer flounder and scup fisheries in a letter to the U.S. Department of Commerce earlier this week.


The Southeast Alaska Fishermen’s Alliance recently announced that the National Marine Sanctuary Foundation has awarded the organization a Hollings Grant to reduce whale entanglements in Alaska salmon fisheries by increasing the use of acoustic whale pingers to minimize entanglements in fishing gear.


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